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Costa Maya water park, re-theming get raves from cruise lines

A towering pyramid forms the centerpiece of the new Lost Mayan Kingdom water park (Photo: Anne Kalosh)
Water slides, zip lines, a lazy river float, a children's water park and a completely restyled cruise facility with an expedition theme and new dining spots focused on regional Mexican foods, beers, chocolate and coffee—all are part of dramatic changes at Puerto Costa Maya.

The massive Lost Mayan Kingdom water park, to debut Nov. 15, has nine water slides, four circuit zip lines, a zip coaster and a ropes course accessed from a towering pyramid. Other elements include a lazy river float, a cenote or deep, limestone-ringed pool for quiet relaxation, a children's water park, shaded snack bar and changing/shower facilities.

The Mayan theme hints at an abandoned archaeological site, with elements of Indiana Jones-style adventure, according to Mauricio Hamui, ceo of ITM Desarrolladores, who oversaw all the new developments.

'I think it's fabulous,' said Tom Anderson, director, product development, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s Global Tour Operations, one of a dozen cruise line executives who donned pith helmets to get into the spirit when previewing the changes on Friday.

'I love the theme. It's cool. They're really celebrating that Mayan history,' Anderson said.

'It's going to be a lot of fun,' predicted Melinda Gyarmati, product manager-tour operations, Carnival Cruise Line. 'It's very rustic and authentic.'

'It looks exciting. There's a tremendous variety—something for everyone, from the hard-core adrenaline people down to the kids,' said Roger Blum, principal of Cruise & Port Advisors.

Visitors enter the park amid antique luggage and crates from an expedition—one, marked 'spider monkey,' jumps around like there's something inside. Copal, a resin burned for Mayan rituals, scents the air. The 34-meter/112-foot pyramid—the highest thing around—rises from the lush forest. Inside, visitors choose a bridge to the slides or to the zip lines; they can climb stairs or ride elevators to the various levels.

They'll get a spine-tingling view from the water slides at the apex of the pyramid, and some of the zip lines have water splashdowns. The children's pool features colorful twisting slides and a giant dump bucket.

'It's impressive,' said Marc Miller, director, deployment and itinerary planning, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., who was most struck by the project's enormous scale.

Many Royal Caribbean International ships calling at Costa Maya are on seven-day cruises that carry a lot of families so these new attractions are very appropriate, according to Chris Allen, associate vp global deployment and itinerary planning, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. A father of triplets, age 5, Allen said he'd love to bring his own children to the Lost Mayan Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Costa Maya cruise terminal itself has been restyled to match the water park's expedition theme. Everything from signage (instead of 'tours,' one arrow points to 'expeditions') to the decoration of the buses to the colors (rustic browns replace hot pink and yellow) to dining has been transformed.

Among the new food and beverage choices are Cantina Latina, featuring Latin American dishes from Cuba to Brazil; Flavors of Mexico, a family-oriented spot serving regional specialties; and the exclusive beachfront Fish Market for fresh seafood, grilled lobster and Champagne. Costa Maya now also operates its own microbrewery, which produces a pale ale and a lager. Yet another novel venue melds Mexican coffees and chocolates with a French-style patisserie.

'We decided to go away from the ordinary, the Señor Frog's,' explained Robert Shamosh, vp marketing and sales for Costa Maya.

'I'm really excited to do this project. This is so authentic,' said food and beverage chief Jesús Olvera, who was part of the opening team at Wynn Las Vegas and has worked for Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton. Javier Moreno serves as director of the water park and the shore excursions program.

Still to come: a major new circuit, Journey to the Mayan Legends, that will highlight important cultural themes like the ceiba tree, which links heaven and the underworld; aluxes, the sprites or spirits that watch over the corn; sacred stones, Day of the Dead festivities and more. Visitors will travel by horse-drawn cart to the different stations where costumed characters stage vignettes.

'It gives you an authentic feel for the area,' Holland America Group's Lisa Jensen, manager of Caribbean and Atlantic shore operations, said of the development.

'They have improved a lot. Not just the port and the malecón (waterfront). They are preserving the flavor of Mexico,' added Judith Palleiro Nayar, director general for Pullmantur Cruceros in Mexco City.

'I'm very impressed with how the Hamui family invested a lot of time and money into creating something out of what was nothing—the way everything is themed, the central story and the back story,' said Mike Bush, product manager-shore excursions, Holland America Group. 'It will be a very enticing and fun experience for our guests when they come to Costa Maya.'

Bush pointed out that all the materials are 'first rate, like the stainless steel in the kitchens. They're doing a great job,' he said.

In addition to the cruise-related changes, the nearby fishing village of Mahahual continues to develop and the cruise line executives, who also included Royal Caribbean's Penny Zeilman and Disney's Larry Stauffer, got to see the work of the new community-driven Fundación Costa Maya. It aims to build a Mahahual Community Center where children can take part in music, dance, handicrafts and other activities. Plus, there are plans to develop micro-businesses such coconut oil products like soap, to supplement the traditional lobster fishing.

'It's cool they're trying to integrate their culture and do it in their own way,' said Tyler Rand, senior deployment strategy analyst, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Hamui, Shamosh and César Lizarraga, vp port operations at Costa Maya, represented Costa Maya at the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association Conference and Trade Show in Cozumel and chartered planes to take the cruise executives to see the developments in a post-conference tour.

'We're going to keep improving and investing in the destination,' Shamosh told them. 'Our objective is to create an amazing and unique destination that delivers a high quality experience and total guest satisfaction.'